Archive | December, 2018

A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis

12 Dec

Labor history is rarely covered in great detail in high schools, which is a shame because the story of how workers gained the right to unionize, an eight-hour day, and a minimum wage is as riveting as any other piece of American history. Many people think that these labor reforms were gifted to workers by the generosity of progressive presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, but in A History of America in Ten Strikes, Loomis shows that it was workers who won these gains themselves by striking against abusive employers and the government, often when the odds were not in their favor.

For most of our existence as a country, work for the average person was bleak and brutal. Loomis writes about how starvation wages, gruesome workplace accidents and deaths, and violent repression of pro-union organizers was common. Conditions were so abysmal in the cotton and textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts that the life expectancy of a worker in the city was just forty years old. Over 100 garment workers burned to death in the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City during a time when it was common for factory owners to lock their employees inside the workplace. Mining companies would pay their employees in a type of currency called “scrip” that could only be used at company stores that would greatly inflate their prices.

The only tool workers had to fight back against these inhumane conditions was to go on strike. At the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan in 1936 – 1937, workers locked themselves inside while police shot tear gas through windows and management tried to freeze them out by turning off the heat. Workers from various industries shut down business in Oakland in 1946 in a city-wide general strike. Air traffic controllers unsuccessfully tried to stop international air travel when they walked off the job under President Ronald Reagan. Labor heroes such as Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Lucy Parsons all make appearances in Loomis’s history, but it is the striking workers themselves who take center stage in his history.

Loomis writes in an easily digestible narrative style that is never dull. His retelling of America’s labor history is both inspiring by highlighting the courage of average working people, but also tragic by showing inability of many of these same workers to look past the racism and xenophobia that was so deeply ingrained. Loomis’s book is as much about race as it is about class and how racism in America’s history has contributed to the weaknesses of many working class movements. Anyone who has enjoyed Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States will definitely enjoy Loomis’s book.

You can borrow A History of America in Ten Strikes from Hoopla as an ebook.  A People’s History of the United States is available as abridged and unabridged audiobook on Hoopla and as an ebook from eBCCLS.

You can stream a variety of documentaries about this topic on Kanopy including Triangle Fire: A Deadly Factory Accident in New York (Part of the PBS Series: American Experience). Our long time readers may remember our previous posts about the Alice Hoffman novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things which involved the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Written By:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Who is the Narrator of Our Lives?: William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

5 Dec

Narration is a big thing not only in books, but also in life. Our actions are ways to which we narrate and navigate our way through our story. But what about inaction and silence? Aren’t those a form of narration as well?

Narration is not only used as a tool within the novel to develop the plot, as well as each separate narrator, but it also exposes the true narrator through the concealment that words put on language. Addie Bundren’s presence in As I Lay Dying, or lack thereof, seems to distract the reader from discovering her side of the story. The irony of the words in the title is though it is in first person narrative, we almost never hear from her point of view. But let me not give out too many spoilers.

The irony of this novel being about a woman who is “dying” but told by those around her who are “alive” is the exact distinction that calls to question the very narration that we are given within the title. As I Lay Dying – first person narrative – seems to reveal a secret hidden within the narrative. This secret would appear to be a story from the perspective of someone who is dying – as per the title – but, in fact, we are almost never introduced to this true first person narrator.

This intrigued me.

One thing to note is that I – the reader – often fall in love with the ironic. Recent blogs I have written were about novels – such as Pamuk’s My Name is Red – allude to this sense of irony within and surrounding that novel, the irony of title’s foreshadowing, and multiple narrators with their own story that still hold the same meaning – rather than different “sides to the story.” It’s ironic, and it’s beautiful to me.

I love this book because it sheds light not only on the fact that the title is strictly about what’s going on as she lays dying, but it also follows this remarkable truth of how what’s going on around us narrates just as much as we do in our own story. As she lays dying is calling to the beauty that even though the title is clearly in first person – which should mean that it’s about her perspective – it’s not. Her perspective is that of what’s around her. It’s what’s happening as she lays dying that’s important, that’s narrating her story.

And isn’t that how it seems – life?

Aren’t we all just lying there as the world just continues to go round, as our story continues on without us, but in reality with us still there?

You can borrow As I Lay Dying in print, as an ebook from eBCCLS or eLibraryNJ, a digital audiobook, and view a movie adaptation on DVD.

Written By:
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

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